Even amid Washington's growing divide, in the new year America must find a renewed sense of unity.
In the political world, cacophonous quarrels and uncivil division may have marked much of 2017; but during the din of tax reform debates and deficit disputes, there were also striking moments of American unity beyond the cloistered halls of Congress.
That same spirit can carry the country in 2018.
Although some will define the state of the nation by its failed political compromises (the recent legislative success on tax reform, for example, was passed along partisan lines), this past year has demonstrated that when Americans needed help the most, citizens stood united with outstretched arms.
Indeed, those who aided the victims of deadly natural disasters embraced the best of the American unity. Local residents, first responders, out-of-state volunteers and nonprofit organizations all joined forces with municipalities as well as state and federal actors to aid those who — in the cases of Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey — lost homes, livelihoods and even loved ones. Along with hurricanes, 2017 saw some of the worst wildfires in California history, which continue to blaze even today in Southern California. Two of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. also took place this year.
In each of these instances, death and destruction took a grave toll, but there were also heroic acts of humanity and self-sacrifice. In Las Vegas, Jack and Laurie Beaton were celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary when bullets began to fly. Jack shielded his wife Laurie, saying “Laurie, I love you” before being shot to death. Laurie miraculously survived thanks to her husband's sacrifice and others who pulled her to safety.
In Texas, reporters recorded stories about citizens mounting Jet-skis to rescue neighbors and a pediatric surgeon canoeing and then wading through waist-high water in order to perform an emergency surgery in Webster, Texas. Tens of thousands of Mormon Helping Hands volunteers from around the country assisted in clearing out flooded homes in areas across Florida and Texas.
In another national story, women banded together in an effort to confront and combat sexual misconduct. The #MeToo movement has been positive in how it's held powerful men accountable for trading in misconduct and causing untold harm and hurt.
Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper, over the past month members have been uniting around a goal to serve in small ways in what has been called the "Light the World" campaign. The effort resulted in tens of thousands of humanitarian donations and many more everyday acts of service aimed at bringing greater light and unity to homes and communities throughout the nation and the world.
In Utah, Democrats and Republicans and local mayors and state-wide officials have all worked in tandem with law enforcement and health officials to find ways to help the homeless population in Salt Lake City. The state Legislature allocated tens of millions of dollars while local philanthropists, charities and churches have each played an important role in seeking better ways to aid some of Utah's most vulnerable citizens.
Political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal have developed a metric that places politicians’ ideology along a scale. They report that “Congress is now more polarized than at any time since the end of Reconstruction.”
Even as Washington seems to stand divided, individual Americans have a remarkable ability to unite in order to improve neighborhoods, communities and society. Although many will define 2017 as a year of division, there are ample examples in the past 12 months of American unity. It must inspire the nation toward continued progress in 2018.